Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ted's Free Period

The grand Kennedy died. As I heard the due honors, I suddenly wondered how long.

Which of the hostile and asocial sorts will be first, second, slam Ted? Spinning the Axis of Asses are likely to be FoxNews, Limbaugh, Coulter and such locals as Hub Politics and Red Mass Group.

Surprisingly, they were not immediate on slamming the Senator. There was a hint and warning at Malkin's site:

There is a time and place for political analysis and criticism. Not now.

Yes, there will be a nauseating excess of MSM hagiographies and lionizations — and crass calls to pass the health care takeover to memorialize his death.

That’s no excuse to demonstrate the same lack of restraint in the other direction. Not now.

She is as tasteless and dishonest and dishonorable as any. So, she'll likely wait a day or two, but certainly not until he's buried before piling on the lies and contorted extrapolations.

We know it will come from the many wingers. So, let's plan on dismissing those puerile attacks like so many flies at the picnic.

Instead, let's keep in the fore that Ted could have taken many easy ways out. He was born wealthy and connected. He could have gone corporate or foundation and cruised in comfort. Having been elected U.S. Senator, he might have been one of the many who ferried the bacon from D.C. to MA, earning adoration and re-election for cash.

This Ted though plugged away for the hard stuff, big ideas that his assassinated brothers sought and much more. He did the progressive thing, going for the underlying problems and long-term solutions. To his last day, he was focused and relentless on those goals.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Bucks for Love and Equality

Appealing shamelessly to the worst in Americans, the bad guys are pouring money and bodies into sparse Maine. This is the time for those who believe in civil rights and in equality to break out the checkbook or plastic.

This is vitally important.

The anti-gay, anti-same-sex marriage professionals and hangers on are vicious but not necessarily stupid. Following the overturn of SSM in California, they acknowledge that Maine's legislated marriage equality has great symbolic value. By bringing in their Hessians and carpetbaggers, funded with out-of-state and out-of-region corporate lobbying, they gamble they can turn back equal rights there in the pending people's veto.

Maine's voters are decidedly toys of the National Organization for Marriage, the various misnamed marriage family groups (which want to limit marriages and families through discrimination), and professional lobbyists. The state has only a little over a million people and apparently NOM figures it can cheaply buy the votes of the confused and dull-witted with disinformation in advertising.

Maybe they can. They have a pretty good chance if we don't all chip in a little now and again in September or October. Sooner is better.

I like to pretend that I can maintain some distance from subjects I cover. I try not to donate to specific local candidates. I have only agreed to put on one lawn sign and fortunately the candidate hasn't delivered anything yet to take me up on it.

Maine is different and it is important. Equality Maine's Vote No on 1 needs volunteers. If you're not close enough or don't have a day or more, do as I do and send some money. They face high tides of anti-gay funding. The least we can do is give them an equal shot at keeping equal rights.

The bad guys clearly hate that a small and largely rural state (as in not Massachusetts) voted equal rights by law to homosexual couples. That's yet more proof that it's not some ultra-liberal trick. They'll do whatever they can to hinder and harm gay couples. We can help send 'em home in defeat.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Calming Boston Streets Again

We at Left Ahead! have a special and extra show this week on Thursday, August 20th, at 10 a.m. The new executive director of the Boston TenPoint Coalition joins us.

Rev. Jeffrey Brown has the ambitious goal of leading the effort to minimize urban violence in Boston, mostly the youth-on-youth variety. It was over a decade ago that the Coalition led the successful effort that became the Boston Miracle.

He'll tell us what's changed on the streets and in the larger communities and how his group will address the challenge.

You can listen live here Thursday at 10 a.m. You can check that URL later or go to Left Ahead to listen to or download the show.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Death to DOMA Says Obama

Finally, we impatient and self-righteous sorts can ease a bit. Speaking through a U.S. Justice Department filing today, the allegedly civil-rights oriented President made it clear that DOMA (the federal Defense of Marriage Act) must go.

A filing in U.S. District Court in California, Smelt v. U.S., continues to ask for dismissal of a suit by a gay couple wanting to overturn DOMA. Yet, as the Washington Post notes, "the filing itself made clear that the administration 'oes not support DOMA as a matter of policy, believes that it is discriminatory, and supports its repeal.'"

That's kind of a mealy mouthed way to get at it. Then again, Obama is a lawyer.

The AP filed a detailed report on the current developments. The separate statement is available at Pam's House Blend. Obama's phrasing was refreshingly unequivocal for him:
Today, the Department of Justice has filed a response to a legal challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, as it traditionally does when acts of Congress are challenged. This brief makes clear, however, that my Administration believes that the Act is discriminatory and should be repealed by Congress. I have long held that DOMA prevents LGBT couples from being granted equal rights and benefits. While we work with Congress to repeal DOMA, my Administration will continue to examine and implement measures that will help extend rights and benefits to LGBT couples under existing law.
It's about time, past time really. May this toll the first death knoll on Bill Clinton's biggest legislative blunder.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cycles, Cars and Cops

Just as Boston's mayor and bicycle czarina are working at reducing cars with their pollution, street clogging, noise and mayhem, bike hate seems never to have been stronger. Moreover, after almost being hit a couple of times by clueless cops by BPD HQ, I sent a letter about it to the commissioner. It's more business as usual all around.

Today's Globe op-ed is a poorly executed (pardon the pun) humor piece on terrorizing and maybe murdering cyclists. They deserve such treatment because they, each and all, are reckless scofflaws. Moreover, biker riders dare to follow the laws and regulations in taking a lane as needed for safety, thus making the writer slow down before passing. The noive, as Bugs Bunny would have said.

If you haven't noticed the pattern on our shrinking broadsheet, the op-ed editors have enjoyed printing what they seem to see as provocative commentary. These tend to be socially conservative and contrarian. A little out of the mainstream, a little rude, and a bit apart from the stereotype of the editorial writers' alleged liberal work make a good column candidate. The combo seems to be intended to spark reaction and thus readership.

Well, traffic enforcement and driving etiquette are light and vague here. The police seem to follow the no-blood/no-ticket guideline. Feigning that they are solving or ready to prevent murder and other major crimes, the police watch countless drivers and many cyclists do as they will.

There's little point to the moot and pissant arguments about whether car/truck/bus operators or cyclists are more likely per capita to run a red light or do something else dangerous. We can read the hundreds or thousands of comments whenever there's an article about cycling. We do know a couple of results though: 1) death and injury by motor vehicle are extremely common and by cycle extremely rare; 2) many motorists are furious that the laws provide the same rights and responsibilities for cyclists as drivers.

It's the old somebody is going to get something I don't syndrome. I anticipated that early this year when I asked one of my legislators, Rep. Willie Mae Allen, to introduce a bill letting cyclists slow down at stop signs instead of necessarily stopping. Several states do this and it gets the cyclist out in front of the driver, so the latter can pass safely and confidently. The literal and simple minded invariably respond that if cars can't, why should cyclists, even when they hear the reasons.

Another aspect that shouldn't startle anyone is that there are different rules for bikes and motor vehicles. For example, cars aren't legal on bike/pedestrian paths and bikes (along with horses and pedestrians) may not use limited-access highways. Most motor vehicles require licenses to own and operate. They also have highly variable possible penalties for moving violations, while cyclists face $20 fines for almost any infraction. Cars and cycles are the same but different.

As a regular cyclist and pedestrian and driver, I have the same moot experiential tales as bike haters and bike lovers out there. I am bike friendly though.

I do figure that we should at the very least expect our law-enforcement officers to set an example for us, certainly in marked and stealth police cars. They don't. They are terrible almost to a one. They tend to be Boston drivers, but Boston drivers who set the pattern for other Boston drivers. Why stop at that red light or before the crosswalk then the LEO doesn't?


I gave up a long time ago on bike cops though. I shared the block for a long time with the original Boston bike cop of the modern era, Sgt. Mike O'Connor. In his family car and blue-and-white alike, he obeys the laws and regulations, even doing the unknown to other cops — signaling right turns. Yet when he was on a bike, he rode on sidewalks in business districts, went the wrong way down streets and more. He was always alert for crime prevention and I watched him in action. He had no qualms about pulling over a truck or bus and enforcing the law as he had none about chasing bad guys by cycle. I ended up coming to terms that he was a highly skilled bike cop who showed good judgment in his abuses on two wheels.

I'm not at all forgiving of a cop in a two-ton Crown Vic running lights, failing to yield to pedestrians or cyclists, or tail gating. They have lights and sirens that they are required to use in the rare instances when they must hie to help. Being a plain old Boston driver should be forbidden when they are in a police vehicle.

I wrote as much to Commissioner Edward Davis. He responded with what appears to be a form letter. Mine was likely not the first complaint he received about his officers on driving. His letter reads:
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your recent letter expressing your concerns over driving habits by Boston Police Officers.

I regret that you have had any unpleasant encounters, relative to traffic laws, with members of the Boston Police Department while travelling in the city. Certainly, all officers should obey the traffic laws, unless they have activated themselves for a public safety reason. This should be the case across the board. They all receive yearly mandatory training at the Boston Police Academy, in which motor vehicle issues are clearly addressed. In addition, we have increased our focus on accidents involving a department vehicle and have a review board in place to monitor driving.

Again, I regret your experience and hope that the actions of a few do not reflect so poorly on the entire agency and its members; most doing a great job and serving the city and its residents well.

Thanks very much for bringing your concerns to my attention.
In other words (nicely), buzz off.

He did not address my principle point that appeared twice in my letter. That is, the police set the tone for other drivers, so they should model proper behavior and set those expectations.

That honestly isn't that hard. Friends and relatives have chuckled at me for such habits as signaling turns, lane changes and exits from rotaries. Davis would have it that his team of crime preventers and solvers hear annually about doing just such things. Those behaviors are common sense, they are safety, they are courtesy, they are the law.

In various article and blog comments, I see some complaints about Boston cops as Boston drivers. I urge you to jot down dangerous driving by them and let the concerned commissioner know. There is a feedback page on the city site. However, a note or letter would be more effective to:
Commissioner Edward F. Davis
Boston Police Department
1 Schroeder Plaza
Boston, MA 02120-2014
I'm sure he'd love to know the date and time, the car number or license plate, the location and the infraction. If you deliver it by hand to the HQ, be very careful. The cops going in and out of the BPD lot are Boston drivers.

By the bye, the RMV used to have an online and a mail-in version of complaint forms for dangerous drivers. These could lead to hearing and resulting tickets or even court appearances.

When my bookmarked link to that was dead, I asked the RMV through the state site about it. The response was:
Hello, Unfortunately, the RMV no longer holds improper operation hearings unless they are specifically requested by law enforcement. Thank you for using Will
So, it is all the more important that the head BPD guy get a better picture of the example his men and women set. He thinks that all but a few are model drivers. Is that so?

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Chewing on Choo-Choos in Boston

We definitely should be at a turning point on public transit. Yet everyone from the ousted head of the MBTA to the governor is oblivious to the real issues.

I'd like to be amused by the cross-blaming reported in the Globe and Herald. None of it is funny though.

Two weeks ago, MBTA board members called for General Manager Daniel Grabauskas to go, as incompetent. Gov. Deval Patrick publicly agreed. Now, having been bought out of the job for $328,000, Grabauskas is all whiny about being blameless for the agency failures.

Both sides are stomping and snorting about rider fares instead of the real issues. Sure, riders don't want the subway ride to go from $1.70 to $2, but the 30¢ is not what it should be about.

I've been alternately yelling and mumbling about the T for years, here and at public hearings. The T disease is not its symptom of fare hikes or not.

To the current public battles, a key aspect is that Grabauskas was, in fact, a bad manager. Like a knight holding up a shield made of a paper towel, he's been holding up the facts that he didn't and doesn't want a fare increase. He claims that since the legislature gave the T a budget supplement, it's okay on cash for the calendar year.

Not the issue, Danny Boy.

He sat in his swivel chair for years as the T spiraled around and down under unworkable, legislature-imposed debt. Any decent manager, of a major agency or a taco stand, would have gone to the root of the major problem. He never did.

Basing the T's self-funding operations on a portion of unending sales-tax growth was one of the General Court's biggest blunders of all time. The GM...and the Governor...and the heads of the Senate and House...needed to have gotten real about this years ago. They have all fallen far, far short on this crucial problem. The sooner they pull their skirts off their foreheads and look at the situation, the sooner they can fix it.

They can start by asking what we want from public transit. To listen to the bunch of them now, it is status quo on fares.

Don't be such jerks, boys and girls. The needs and futures include:
  • Reliable, frequent, safe and clean train and bus service
  • Incentives (the above, plus low cost) for more riders
  • Fewer cars (with lower noise, congestion, pollution, accidents)
  • More transit from where people live to where they work and play
We need some real goals, not crossing our body parts, hoping for fares to stay the same. Let's aim for a T that has all those features above and nearing free fares (or at least the $1 former Gov. Michael Dukakis proposed two years ago). Those would be the game changers we want and need.

In these parts, we like to brag about having the country's first subway. Well, that's nothing in itself. Pennsylvania boasts of the first turnpike. Both systems look like the first and suffer by comparison with the modern.

Instead, we should leap to the best mass transit. We can't get it by hobbling the agency in charge with unmanageable debt.

Yes, Grabauskas failed, but he wasn't alone in that. As well as being delusionally short-sighted, he played the game without the tools. The inane debt structure demands failure.

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